Danny Lesslie of Dadswagger wrote this story about his second-born daughter, Ace. Dadswagger empowers fathers to be present with their families. His Instagram account features images of dads being dads in their everyday lives, and illustrates the power of a present father. Hear more on Danny’s birth and fatherhood perspective here.
Birth—what a crazy experience! It really is hard to put into words and feel like I have even scratched the surface or the emotion/experience of it all. The first birth was a true rite of passage for us. I have never been a part of something so visceral, and wildly joyful at the same time. There were moments of sheer terror, and moments of unequaled gratitude. My wife, a warrior and a champion of humanity, took no drugs, and fought tooth and nail for hours for us to meet our first daughter. I watched and was by her side as it all went down, with the few bouts of nausea, and 2-3 near blackouts. Not to downplay the pregnancy, because that was no easy task. I just got to go along for the ride and see what strength really is.
After all was said and done with our first, it turned out that we were still discussing the birth all the time. My wife was, and still is dealing with the psychological and physical implications of creating, and birthing a human. This is quite a journey and everyone has some serious adjusting and healing to do. If I had it all to do again, I would do exactly what I did. I believe my wife would say the same. We would change nothing. Our daughters are beautiful and bring us more joy than I can explain. But birth is traumatic, it is not a pleasant experience. Each birth is in the wild success column, and each birth was completely different, and equally as traumatic.
For the birth of our second daughter, my wife was 7 cm dilated when we got to the birth center. If you don’t know this is well on your way, 10 cm is the number to start pushing and baby is coming soon. We got to the birth center about 6 a.m., and she had our daughter by 8:45 a.m. This birth was way faster than our first. My wife was also present the entire time. In the first birth, it was almost like she left her body, and her body did the work. I distinctly remember the moment she left, and the exact moment she returned. This is part of the mysteriousness of the whole experience. In the second birth, she was lucid and battling demons and pain the entire time. It was truly an amazing thing to be a part of. Let no one ever tell you birth is easy, or downplay the strength of a mother. I am about to reinforce this with our birth story. The pushing, the screaming, the vicious reality, the hope and excitement when you see your child’s head. I can’t help but get teary eyed talking about it.
Then came the moment, my wife pushed one final time and our baby’s head came out, then quickly came the rest of her beautiful little body. The first time you lay your eyes on someone you created is a moment I wish for all of you. You can’t help but lose your breath and just feel humility for the blessing. The sense of warmth in my heart and soul radiated through my whole body. We still didn’t know what we had. Boy or girl. Our trusted midwife Robyn immediately laid the baby on mama. So then we looked, we had a girl. YES! We couldn’t be more proud, and grateful. I cannot explain to you the sense of relief when your child is out safely on mama’s belly. Everyone was finally calm. The crazy confusing hurricane of birth was past us. While you are anxiously awaiting the birth, contraction to contraction is like a roller coaster if you were blindfolded, you are on the verge of sick the entire time, sweating, and your heartbeat is through the roof. This can go on for hours, with no end in sight. And finally it comes to an end, and all your anxiety melts into pure joy, relief.
Our midwife then began to do the post-birth activities, one of which is clamping the umbilical cord. She grabbed onto it, as mama and I were fawning and feasting our eyes on or new baby girl. When suddenly we realized something was awry. The umbilical cord just pulled right out. It was attached to nothing. This is a big “no bueno.” If you have never been a part of a birth, the baby is the first thing to come out of mama. Then must come the placenta. This is attached to the umbilical cord. Typically, you grab ahold of the cord and apply traction. While doing this mama, has a few more contractions that help push her placenta out. This is not a pleasant or comfortable thing for mama, either. The placenta is not meant to stay inside the mama. When it does, it is called a retained placenta. Although somewhat rare, this definitely does happen. Our well-earned relief quickly took a very sharp and treacherous turn. As if birth was not enough of a traumatic experience, we then learned that our midwife was going to have to go on a recon mission for the placenta.
You can use your imagination as to what has to go on here, but this bad boy has to come out. Our midwife calmly went through the options with us about how to frame this and move forward. After a painful and exhausting 30 min. or so of failed attempts at getting the placenta to come out, we as a team—midwife, mama, and papa—decided it was time to go in. By going in, I mean going in to the hospital, which means drugs, and a whole host of things we specifically chose to avoid. Herein lies a risk in out-of-hospital births. There are some things that are just not possible. We were willing to accept these risks. We were all heartbroken. Such a moment of joy, and still mama was not in the clear. She was far from it. In these moments where she should be basking in the warmth of her new baby on her chest, she was quivering with exhaustion, and facing the reality that she still had work to do.
We made the choice to send our older daughter home with grandma, I would stay at the birth center with the new baby, and our midwife and my wife would go to the hospital. I almost threw up even playing this out in my head. Fuck no! I won’t let my wife go alone, without me. But we were not taking our just-born daughter into a hospital waiting room. Not a chance. So I was stuck. Then my mind began to race. In this moment that is supposed to be so perfect, I am horrified as I hold my brand new daughter. What a weird moment in time. My heart didn’t know whether to be completely broken, or to be exploding with joy. I now have two baby girls, and I am shuttering at the thought of my wife not being OK. What if by some crazy circumstance my wife doesn’t come back? What if something goes wrong and I am not there? How is this now a life and death thing? Is this a possibility? My heart was hurting, I wanted to burst into tears as I watched my wife endure this. But we were going forward. It was the only way.
My wife stood up off the bed, quivering. We all felt so defeated. We began to wipe her off, and wrap a towel around her to get ready for the trip to the hospital. I had a thought, and asked her to squat down and see if that might help the placenta move along. As she squatted down, all that once was hope, like a small candle in the distance began to grow. She peered down between her legs, and there it was. She said she could see the placenta. So Robyn encouraged her to try to grab it. I was fully goose-bumped and almost shivering as this went down. It was like God put a handle on that weird looking squishy thing. My wife grabbed onto her placenta and pulled it out. WHAT?! Let me say that again: MY WIFE GRABBED ONTO HER PLACENTA AND PULLED IT OUT! Now THAT is some POWER OF A WOMAN WARRIOR SHIT! What was a terribly dismal and heartbroken scene, exploded into pure awestruck jubilation. I swear my heart skipped 20 beats. We were all in tears, we were all just giddy. My wife was OK. I cannot relay the sense of calm in my heart at this moment. It almost seemed like we just played out some sort of unrealistic fantasy together. Reality was bent. I still have to pinch myself to know it’s really true. No matter what happens, you better read the last page of that book. Holy moly, is there some serious truth to that statement?!
Then our midwife helped my wife to the shower where she helped her to shower off, and we were good to go. With a little bit of relaxing we were in the car headed home. We joked about going to get waffles for lunch. This was crazy, this whole thing still has me speechless. It still seems fake.
I was seriously taken aback at the thought of possibly losing my wife while sitting there holding our daughter. For some reason, when you think of having a baby, you don’t think about loss, or problems, or that everything and everyone might not be OK. These moments are burned into our story, and they are forever etched into the story of my wife’s strength as a human and as a mother. I am in awe! I am so blessed to have such a wife, and two powerful and beautiful baby girls.
My wife and I always spoke about having many kids. I was the one who wanted to push four to the craziness of six. After this birth, my wife said that might be the last baby she has. I couldn’t be more in agreement. I harbor no ill will to this perspective after watching her give birth to our two daughters, and watching the recoveries from both. Each birth had its own drama, and its own trauma. Don’t let anyone tell you birth is not beautiful, but there is also a dark side. It forever leaves scars, it forever leaves emotional and psychological hurdles to be dealt with.
I can tell you this: I don’t want to be back in the shoes of being in a life and death situation again. Making those choices haunts a person. We were crazy fortunate to have made out like birth bandits on this day. We have two beautiful girls, I have my warrior of a wife, and I have to tell you there is nothing more I/we need.
Each day, I see my three beautiful girls, and they all remind me of the strength of the others. I will never forget the experiences of seeing them both come into this world. I look at them and I see the strength of my wife, I look at my wife and am eternally thankful for the two amazing gifts she has given me. This is all positive. Granted, birth is like going through the ringer and then being run over by a truck, and I am the dad. I don’t know how my wife does it. Let me tell you, watching someone go through and experience what I have described is an amazing thing. Talk about falling hopelessly in love. This is my life.
Written by Danny Lesslie